In the midst of a drought for Australian cinema comes a bold and visionary cinema project – the big screen adaptation of Tim Winton’s book The Turning, a collection of 17 short stories published in 2005. Conceived and produced by Robert Connelly, it’s a three hour feast of Australian talent, the seventeen inter-related stories starring names like Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto and Hugo Weaving, and each of the 17 shorts directed by a different person – from old hands like Warwick Thornton, Justin Kurzel and Connelly himself, to newcomers like actor David Wenham, dancer Stephen Page, and Canberra actress Mia Wasikowska.
Despite Winton and Connelly allowing each director complete freedom over the interpretation of their story, some fascinating tropes and enigmatically Australian themes pervade the three hour experience (which comes with an interval). Small country towns, damaged people, dry bush and desolate beaches dominate proceedings, all with an underlying sense of nostalgia and regret. In Warwick Thorton’s Big World, two young friends escape from the miseries of the meat factory after flunking school. On the road in a clapped out van they pick up a female hitchhiker who tests their friendship. But as the film heads for a burnt out ending, the narrator ages and the story slides far into the past, characters long gone, the landscape still omnipresent. The film is full of such moments, moments were lives turn.
Viewers will find their favourites from amongst the collection: for me Claire McCarthy’s segment The Turning was the standout film. Set in a small seaside town, it stars Rose Byrne stars as tired trailer-park mum Raelene, looking for escape from a violent husband. When well-to-do newcomer Sherry (Miranda Otto) arrives in town, they strike up an awkward friendship, and it’s the secrets and complications of Sherry’s past that offer Raelene her moment of hope. There’s much variety amongst the collection: Justin Kurtzel (Snowtown) takes a documentary approach to his film Boner McPharlin’s Moll whilst circus director Yaron Lifschitz uses dance. Wasikowska’s segment Long Clear View is another stand out, her acutely observed perspective on childhood a cinematic treat. It stands in strong contrast to the wordy, theatrical approach of theatre director Simon Stone with his less successful Reunion, starring Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh.
As the segments unfold, the subtle connections between the films emerge –characters portrayed at different ages, place and time that could be anywhere in Australia in the past 40 years, images of fire and sand. Collectively they create a haunting and powerful sense of Australia as people tied to place through memory, and it’s this that makes it a very special cinema event.